He Who Sows Sparingly
What does 2 Corinthians 9:6 mean?
The church does a lot of things well, but one area where we sometimes drop the ball is money.
I have seen rich leaders use threats to extort money from poor people. I’ve encountered churches that publicly name and shame non-tithers. And I know struggling families that borrow from loan sharks to pay their tithes and avoid being named and shamed.
None of this is new.
Remember how Jesus marvelled at the widow who gave her last two coins to the temple treasury? It wasn’t her generosity that impressed him, but the power of religion to extract every last penny from our pockets.
She put in all she had to live on. (Mark 12:44)
Which brings me to today’s scripture. You’re sitting in church and it’s time to take up the collection and you hear the following:
He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully (2 Corinthians 9:6)
In context, Paul is talking about financial giving, so it’s perfectly legitimate to use this scripture when asking for money. But here are three takeaways that Paul never intended:
Bad takeaway #1: “Give financially, and God will bless you financially.”
In other words, you can purchase God’s favor. Nothing could be further from the truth. The blessings of God are not for sale but are freely given on account of his grace.
“Give and God will reward you.” Although there are rewards to giving, it is wrong to suggest that God will supply all your needs according to the size of your contribution. Read Philippians 4:19 if this is news to you.
Bad takeaway #2: “You can’t out give God, so expect a big payback!”
“Give to God (i.e., the church, my ministry, my Bible theme park) and you will get a 30-fold, 60-fold, even a 100-fold return.” So if you give $10, you could get $1000 back in a divine wealth transfer. What a terrific investment!
Honestly, it’s a wonder the Federal Trade Commission doesn’t clamp down on claims like these.
Sidebar: Have you ever wondered why those promising big returns for giving don’t follow their own advice? If they did and it worked, they wouldn’t have to ask for money. And it didn’t work, they have no business making these promises.
“Okay, Paul, but what about Malachi 3:10 where God says ‘Test me in this and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing’?”
See the cross. God has already opened the floodgates of heaven. They could not be more open than they already are. They are not open because you gave, but because he did. Every blessing is ours in Christ (Eph. 1:3). Thank you, Jesus.
Bad takeaway #3: “Sow generously, even if you can’t afford it.”
In other words, widow, hand over your grocery money. The exploitation of the poor by religion is an ancient disgrace. As Jesus said, “Beware of the chief priests who devour widow’s houses” (Mark 12:40).
If you give your food money to a rich minister because you have been led to believe you will magically end up with more money, you are in for a rude surprise. Yes, I know there will be some who say, “I gave all I had and God blessed me!” But those are exceptions to the rule, and this is not what Paul is talking about here. He is not encouraging hungry widows to give what they can’t afford.
Sparingly means spare
Let’s take another look at 2 Corinthians 9:6. A key word in this passage is sparingly. “He who sows sparingly will reap sparingly.”
Picture a farmer who has a ton of seed but only sows a tenth of it. He is left with a lot of spare seed. What’s going to happen at harvest time? He will have a tiny harvest. If he had sowed the lot, he would’ve reaped ten times as much.
The point is this: the more you sow, the more you reap. Pretty obvious, right?
In context, Paul is talking about giving to the poor. I appreciate that’s not obvious at first glance, but when Paul speaks of “your service to the saints” and “supplying the needs of the saints” (see 2 Cor. 9:1, 12), he’s talking about giving to help the starving Christians in Jerusalem.
So this has nothing to do with building cathedrals or buying a jet for your favorite evangelist. It’s about helping starving widows, some of whom were hungry because they had put all their food money in the temple treasury!
Okay, next verse:
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)
Note the order: God blesses you abundantly, then out of that abundance you are able to bless others. God leads and we respond. I know that’s deep theology right there. Some people can’t see it because they read it backwards, as in, you give abundantly then God will bless you.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
Back to the farmer. The farmer’s job is to sow the seed, but where does the seed come from?
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. (2 Corinthians 9:10)
Are you getting this? God gives you seed and then you choose whether to sow that seed sparingly or bountifully. It’s up to you. It’s your seed.
It’s very important that you get this lest you find yourself at the temple treasury giving your food money away in the hope of winning a pay out from that divine slot machine in the sky.
In context, Paul is talking about giving to poor Christians, but the principle of sowing and reaping is universal. In much of life, you get back what you put in.
Let me give you two examples. Example 1: I once gave fifty bucks to a ministry that shelters and cares for victims of sex trafficking. Example 2: I helped fundraise over a hundred thousand dollars to build a kindergarten in Mongolia that provides hot meals and health care to under-privileged kids in the impoverished ger district of Ulan Bator.
Both were legitimate and important ministries, but guess which investment had the bigger payback for me personally? You got it – it’s the one where I was more deeply invested.
To recap, Paul is not saying “give out of your poverty and God will be obliged to repay more than you gave.” What a greedy, selfish message! He’s saying, “If you think raising funds to feed starving saints in Jerusalem is a worthwhile project, then give out of your abundance and don’t hold back.”
What’s in it for me?
Okay, all well and good. But I know what you’re thinking. “Where’s the payback? What do I get out of this?” Paul tells us:
Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. (2 Corinthians 9:13-14)
When you give out of the grace that God has given you, the result is praise to your heavenly Father and gratitude for you. If that is not a worthwhile return, I don’t know what is.
I like to imagine the Corinthians responded enthusiastically to Paul’s message. “Brothers and sisters are starving? Let’s help!” But who knows. The Corinthians were famously stingy. Paul had to appeal to their better nature and competitive instincts (see 2 Cor. 9:2-4).
We live in a world full of needs and we have to choose wisely how we respond.
Perhaps your church is pivoting to adapt to a post-Covid world.
Perhaps your neighbors are struggling because they’ve lost their jobs.
Perhaps you have been moved by the healthcare disasters unfolding in India and Nepal.
There are so many worthy opportunities out there that it’s easy to go numb and lock the wallet. But no one will praise your heavenly Father if you do that.
We need to give – it’s in our DNA. And there will be times when you encounter an opportunity to help others while making an impact for the gospel.
When that happens, follow Paul’s advice and sow generously.
Give out of your abundance and don’t hold back.
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Wow! Nice post Paul! If you think about it, God is so good, that he blesses even the widows that gave everything to the temple, because solely of His love, care and mercy. That’s the reason some people receive some blessings of their donation and Pastor create a whole theology about this. It’s a trap cycle for the believer. I always compared that to the soda pop machines, you put the money and press what you want. That’s what the church believe that God is today.
Eye opening article for me. I have given out of my lack expecting to receive, recently to a well known Grace preacher who was asking for money to pay off his debt, I did it because I desperately need to get rid of a mountain of debt, and they mentioned a 100 fold return. Now I feel foolish. But 1 question – What about Luke 6:38 “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom…”?
Oh dear. Well at least you helped someone in their hour of need.
In Luke 6:38, Jesus is saying the same thing Paul says in 2 Cor. 9:6. If you sow bountifully from the seed God has given you, you will reap bountifully. If you plant seed, you’ll reap a harvest. It’s a principle of life, as any farmer knows. Jesus is not saying, “Give your food money to the temple and God will magically make lots of money come your way.” It was the chief priests who devoured widows’ houses.
I’ve never heard sermons promising that I will be financially rich in this life if I give my money away (British preachers don’t seem to use this tactic much), but to me, the worrying point is teachings from Jesus suggesting that the rich or comfortably off go to hell and only the starving and destitute go to heaven (the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, also Luke 6:20-26), so unless I give away everything I have (the conversation with the rich young ruler) I will go to hell, and that if there is anyone in need whom I haven’t helped, perhaps because I didn’t have any money left, I will go to hell anyway (the parable of the sheep and the goats) and that Jesus wants not just the rich, but even the poor (the widow you mentioned in this post) to give away their last pennies. At least Jesus asked the rich young ruler to come and follow him – with the poor widow, he just behaves as though being commended as an example of generosity is ample compensation for the fact that she is now likely to starve to death – after all, she’ll go to heaven, right?
Jesus doesn’t need to use the carrot of financial wealth when he can wield the stick of eternal damnation. I realise you probably don’t interpret his teachings that way, but how do you interpret them? Do you have a post on this?
I have hundreds of articles on the teachings of Jesus. Check out the Archives > Scripture Index.
I cried when I read “See the cross. God has already opened the floodgates of heaven.” That verse, seen in the light of money and giving, had tortured me over and over because I felt like I didn’t trust God when I didn’t give money away that I didn’t HAVE to give away…. but now, seen in the light of truth, I love it, I love it so much! Thanks Paul, I walk lighter and more loved today and yesterday because of what you wrote 🙂
I’m so glad to hear that Margaret.
Wow. I am speechless because i have never seen or heard these scripture passages explained these way i was in tears reading them an eye opener thanks Paul.
Thanks! You’re the first one to notice.
They are not open because you gave, but because he did..I love this…Thanks Paul..such a great eye-opener.
Thanks for sharing. Great teaching. Lawrence
Thank you Paul
My pastor says we can’t receive financial help from God if we don’t tithe. In fact we may be sick a and suffer until we start paying our tithes
That’s pure legalism right there. The next step from there is that if you happen to get sick, it will probably be because you’re not tithing, or maybe not tithing enough. Sounds like a very slippery slope to me.
Fortunately Jesus set us free from the horror of legalistic living. We can come boldly before Him in our hour of need, not based on our performance, but based on what Jesus already accomplished and completed on the cross.
Paul, whilst the attitude of “to give to get“ as a leverage or a bargaining tool with God is incorrect. But giving to get as a “means to access” or a “channel” is a biblical principle. Whilst I am blessed because of Jesus. The manifestation of that blessing comes via “sowing and reaping”, it is a trust in God issue. Because the math is one of faith. If I have 10, I give 1, I have 9 left, the math doesn’t give me more. That’s the math of it. But God is saying, you trust in me, and rest in my providence, I am the one who supplies all your needs. And by giving, you will get more.
If you are a sower, he gives both seeds and bread. It’s all about the attitude. And also understanding how finances come, he gives us the power to make wealth to confirm his covenant. Deut 8:18.
What we put our hands to are blessed, if you don’t do anything, you can’t manifest the blessing of god on you.
That’s essentially what I said. “The more you sow, the more you reap.” It’s not just a biblical principal, it’s a universal principal trusted in by everyone from farmers to investors.